In the 11th chapter of Gary McCue’s Trekking In Tibet McCue discusses the Mount Kailash Region, the cultural and religious significance of it, and how best to travel through the region. This reading broke down the why Mount Kailash was sacred to the multiple religions of the region as well as how a large number of pilgrimages occur every year from worshippers of several different religions. In a way this particular reading felt much different from all of the other readings I distinctly remember from this course due to the fact that this reading presented a perspective of Tibet that I as a western tourist could directly experience. All of the other understandings of Tibet have come from a largely historical or theological perspective. Reading about a Holy Site of Tibetan Buddhism, a place where Milarepa himself stood, alongside the “pit of garbage and broken glass, barking dogs, loud Chinese disco music, and revving truck engines” (Trekking 207) that is the town of Darchen feels almost wrong. Sacred sites of Tibetan Buddhism turning into little more than a tourist trap for adventure hungry westerners is one certainly one of the unforeseen consequences that can come with the opening up of Tibetan culture to the outside world.
One other section of this reading that particularly caught my attention was the section on the Mount Kailash Circuit Trek. McCue describes the hike as a rather difficult hike that can be completed in its entirety in a day, if one spends their entire day on it. There are some Tibetans however, who complete prostrations during the entire trek, in which case the journey can take up to two weeks long. McCue also mentions that for a Tibetan Buddhist, one trek around the mountain cleanses the participant of a lifetime of sins, and enlightenment can be achieved in a single lifetime by completing 108 circuits (Trekking 213). This pilgrimage seems to be the latest stop in a line of diluting the requirements that are necessary to attain enlightenment. Based on the early teachings of the Buddha, enlightenment was something that required utter devotion and commitment over several lifetimes to attain. Then we eventually reach the Tantric practices in which enlightenment can be achieved through suffering and the careful practice of certain methods under the watchful eye of a qualified guru. Now however, it seems that enlightenment is something that can be obtained simply by hiking around a mountain 108 times. McCue’s description is undoubtedly an oversimplification of the practice that occurs when one performs the Mount Kailash circuit, however the fact of the trend in attaining enlightenment remains. What exactly about Buddhism has caused it to so drastically lower the standards for entry to enlightenment? Is it a trend of trying to entice more hesitant followers to throw themselves at a suddenly more attainable goal of enlightenment? Or is it simply because Buddhist practitioners have come to understand the nature of human existence to a point where they can streamline the practices to be achieved not only in one lifetime, but a fraction of that?